Thursday, November 12, 2009

What is Anniversary Phenomenon?

In medicine - and in psychiatry, specifically, - "Anniversary Phenomenon" is the term used to describe that sense of uneasiness, anxiety, or a "down" mood that people experience around the same time of year that something traumatic happened to them in the past.

Sometimes, when people are feeling depressed and can't nail down exactly why, I'll ask, "Is there anything significant that has happened to you at about this time of year?"

I'm surprised at how often people have that "Ah-Ha!" moment, linking instantly to the time of a prior grief or other difficult event.

Halloween, for example, can unconsciously trigger emotions of visceral vulnerability for me. I remember buying Steve boxer shorts with Halloween bats on them. He was in the hospital with his very acute descent into Renal Failure at the time, and daughter Brita and I trekked down to Old Navy to find the appropriate undergarments for him. Interesting how those Halloween bats have stuck in my mind: indelible reminders of a time of enormous change and uncertainty, even through the event was over two years ago.

No surprise, actually. I can still remember the way the winter sky looked from my father's ICU room when he was deathly ill and on a ventilator with a gallstone-related pancreatitis. And that was over twenty years ago!

So, if you find yourself caught in a blue mood without an obvious explanation, ask yourself about "Anniversary Phenomenon." Sometimes we register the world's seasonal and environmental cues in a way that trumps our conscious memory. But we know in our bones that something's not right!

I welcome your stories on the Anniversary Phenomenon.

Read more about Steve's story in "Complications: A Doctor's Love Story," available at It's R-rated for language--but it's real!
Take care. Linda Gromko, MD

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